Thursday, May 3, 2012

The dying art of conversation... huh?

This is what many are 'talking about' - the death of conversation.  In a world that is increasingly turning to texting, tweeting and chatting online.  Well connected, but in silence. Who would have thought it possible?  People talking without speaking, People hearing without listening. 


At home, time and again, we have stopped the elder one in her conversation, to tell her to get to the point, and to skip the details (sorry S!) . She is a great one for that.  Thankfully it has not stopped her, ever.  But now, if we are to go by the words of the  renowned psychologist and professor at MIT - Sherry Turkle - it is important to listen to each other, even if it is in the most boring bits  because it is often in unedited moments, that we reveal ourselves to one another.

Professor Turkle says students have mastered the art of eye contact while they are busy texting! Nothing new.  How many times have our children ( I am without doubt speaking for all parents) nodded their heads at appropriate moments, blinked, changed facial expressions to give you the impression that they are hanging on to every word  said, while their fingers dexterously typed out long messages.  To think that we spent hours trying to get them to hold a pencil and learn to write!  This particular fine skill of texting came naturally to them!

Turkle has also coined a new term - the Goldilocks effectnot too close, not too far, just right , keeping in touch with so many people yet to keep them at bay - at a distance they can control - .  For most youngsters, human relationships are messy,and they move from conversation to connection.  And over a period of time stop caring.  They forget the art of conversation, and skills associated with it.  Of being patient and empathising. Always in the company of 'friends' - if we cannot be alone even for a while it will only make us more lonely.  And that is a scary thought.

I guess it is due to the numbers in India, our world has not fallen silent.  And we are a nation of noisy people.  But surprisingly, when I took a journey by train some time ago it was so different.  I remember how much fun it used to be earlier. The noise, the hawkers, the conversations, sharing of meals.  But this time, I found it strangely silent.  Only the hum of the airconditioning.  Almost all were busy with their smart devices (I think I was the only one with an 'antique' piece). Playing games, on facebook, or tweeting. And being constantly warned not to accept food from strangers, we all settled down to the boring railway catered food and ate in silence.

Another time, I was awaiting my turn at the billing section of a hospital.  A lady barged in before me.  I thought I should protest, but she looked distraught.  She was hunched over the counter and I thought she must be having a tough time and after all it only meant a delay of a few minutes.  But it took longer and curiosity finally got the better of me and I peered over to see the cause of her despair.  But lo! I found her face inches away from her phone and she was playing a game.  I guess the pained expression shifted to my face.

It is nice to think most of those of my generation still pick up a phone or drop by to have a conversation.  Not just someone who 'likes' or 'pokes'.  And thank god once again for S and her incessant banter. 

Sunday, March 18, 2012

It's Not Important to Touch Your Toes

(Pic -

All these years I have pushed myself to touch my toes.  Till a fortnight ago.  I was lying down on my new green yoga mat.  I always feel it is necessary to have these little pretty accessories that serve as an impetus to get going on an exercise routine . Well anyway, to get back to the supine position on the yoga mat...  I got up and bent forward to touch my toes.  And I found that my hand did not proceed beyond my calves.  I mean I could touch the toes the day before. So what was wrong today? As I was trying to push myself to make the phalanges meet, I realised it was absolutely unnecessary. Why pull a hamstring on a day the body does not want to make the extra effort?  And after that believe me, exercising is a lot more fun.  And no stress.  And just being consistent with the routine is the secret of a successful workout.

So remember, It's not Important to Touch your Toes...unless of course you are a fitness trainer.

I have even gone as far as to think this would make a good title for a book.  And I am sure it will atleast attract a few eyeballs at a store. But for someone who has not been too regular posting here, I know  the book will never see the light of day.  But that has not stopped me from thinking about the sequels.  For instance..

It is not important to be size zero ( unless you are Kareena Kapoor)

It is not important to be a perfect wife ( it will only make your husband lazy)

It is not important to be a perfect mother ( your kids will be brats anyway and yet grow up fine)

And so on... It could be a hit.. remember the Dummies series?

Ponder over it.. perfection is fine, but is really necessary if the end result can be achieved without the strain?

What do you think?

Sunday, March 4, 2012

Of books and thoughts...

I am not one of those who follows the political scene very closely.  Domestic or international.  Not that I am totally ignorant either.  I usually skim through political commentaries and get by with the headlines and news reports and occasionally the odd programme on the television.

But it is slowly changing.  I realise we have a lot to be thankful for.  Despite the scams, the corruption, and our politicians.

The book that first brought this change in my thinking and perception was The Kite Runner  by Khaled Hosseni .  I remember my brother was excited when he heard the news on the radio about the Soviet invasion of Afghanistan. This was so long ago in 1979.  He did try to explain what it meant to the rest of the world, but it was lost on me.This book, now, brought back those moments.  The story itself is very moving, and though the characters hold center-stage, the disruption of what was once a peaceful life in Kabul stands out.  His description of the country does not match the scenes we now see on TV.  I can only think of the dusty roads, the bombed buildings, the tanks, the guns, soldiers, masked men .. like a ghost town.  Could Afghanistan have really been the peaceful, beautiful place that Hosseni describes in the early chapters of his book?

Coincidentally the next book I picked up was Benazir Bhutto's autobiography - Daughter of the East. I had no real intention of reading the book. It was more than 400 pages and the print was tiny.  And the Bhutto family did not hold interest. However, the first few pages were enough to ensure that I read the book from cover to cover.  While the account would definitely be biased.. I mean which autobiography wouldn't? I found myself totally immersed in the book.  It is evident that she had enjoyed a good life till her father was imprisoned.  He was her hero.  She dwells upon the achievements in his reign. And how all that changes after the military coup.  The family could have fled and lived a comfortable life in exile. But I guess once you have a taste of power it can be difficult to live without it. That she endured innumerable detentions and remained sane is admirable.  Here again there is mention of Afghanistan and the role of the US in arming the Afghan guerillas to fight the Soviets, and then abandoning the region altogether when they retreated.  And the subsequent rise of terrorism in the area.   However one sided the writing may be, there is no doubt that Ms Bhutto was indeed a great storyteller just as much as her famed oratorical skills.  We never will know whether another term of her as the Prime Minister would have brought development and peace once again to a strife-torn country.  Or would it have been a continuation of the military regime in a new garb?

These two books have made me aware of our neighbouring countries. Of  petty politics of the super powers.  Of senseless wars that are being fought.  Of the children in the Palestine, Syria, Iraq..  How long will they live with the sound of gun shots and bombs ringing in their ears?

Friday, February 3, 2012

In Rewind Mode

The day the music died….(To those from my time, it would be a song by Don McLean and for the younger generation maybe the lines would still be a familiar Madonna song)  

But that is how we felt for a long time after WorldSpace closed their operations in India.  It used to be a routine.  Early morning devotional music – Carnatic and Hindustani that slowly progressed to a faster beat for the exercise hour and then to Farishta for old Hindi songs. The day went by. 

And then there was no music at all.  We put away the satellite receiver.  Our 15 year old Sony music system was in a bad shape.  From disuse. For a while we managed with the music channels on TV and we were only listening to the latest Bollywood music.  An occasional good song, but constant Sheila and Munni can get so tiring.  V thought we had enough of it all and lugged the music system to the service center.  

It came back a fortnight ago with the FM radio, CD and audio-casette player in working condition. We found ourselves removing the carton that had not seen the light of day for almost three years. A box filled with memories.  Of age old audio-cassettes!! The thought of donating the tapes had occurred to me , but I had found no takers.  All had moved on to newer technology. The younger one asked me to check on Amazon.  You might just get lucky, she said.  Some ancient articles can bring in good money. But no such luck.  Everyone seemed to think they just had to be junked.  And so the carton remained.  Thank god for that!

After spending a whole day sorting them out, we have boxes (and more boxes) of songs - in all languages - English, Hindi, Tamil, Telugu.  Classical music - western and Indian. Vocal and instrumental. And the tapes in good condition too.  With music to last a life time.

What was even better was the discovery of the tapes of my children reciting nursery rhymes, slokas and a whole lot of baby talk that their grandfather had recorded.  

And yet another surprise.  We had met MS Subbalakshmi when she was no longer giving public performances. No mobile phone cameras, no digital cameras to capture the moment.  But for this ...

And now I get up to the sound of music...and a cup of tea (yes, I am not the first one to awaken) . What could be better than that?

Sunday, January 22, 2012

The Rise and Fall.....

I wonder what he would be thinking, if he were to look around and see the statues that were up one day and down the next.

What got me thinking about statues was the recent news item about a man being arrested in the UK for ‘illegally’ bringing the ‘butt’ of the statue of Sadam Hussein from Iraq.   This was a 2ft bronze lump that he saved from being melted down after it was toppled by the US marines in 2003. He brought it back with him and now Iraq wants it returned. They claim it is their cultural history (??).   

But(t) it raised several questions in my mind.  About the statues of the past and those of the present.  I am sure the sculptors of yore put in a lot of thought and worked to make it a piece of art.  They chose subjects that were worthy of their skill.  Mythological figures, of kings and queens and of great leaders.

The living had no thoughts of transfering their image in stone or metal. That was unheard of.  Did Madam Tussauds wax models of living celebrities bring about the change?  Anyway I knew Sadam had one only after it was brought down.  And of course, recently in the news for all the wrong reasons, are that of Mayawati.

While I grew up, apart from the statues that were left behind by the British (as they took away priceless pieces of art) , we had the occasional statue of Mahatma Gandhi or Sardar Patel.  It was after Jawaharlal Nehru passed away that some of his statues came up. But these were few.  It is only lately, with petty politicians aplenty that statues are put up with public money of those who have made little or no contribution to society.

Statues to me are a cause of ire.  We have one right at the beginning of the lane. Of that of Rajiv Gandhi.  It served as a landmark while giving directions to the house.  All that changed once Congress came back to power.  At every occasion a dias is put up overnight, the ‘leaders’ congregate, flower garlanding ceremonies are planned for the busiest part of the morning leaving all office-goers stranded.  And for us, we are stuck in our lane with no way out,.  All I do is fret and fume.  Thoughts of toppling it down have also entered my mind. 
And it is therefore no surprise that statues are the targets of mob fury and political vengeance.  Who can forget the destruction of the statues of The Buddha by the Taliban?  Well, anyway the BJP, SP,  have said that if they come back to power in UP, they would auction the statues of Mayawati.

It appears that statues are no longer meant for posterity.  They are to be toppled, destroyed, covered or even auctioned!
 But I would think, all it takes is a pigeon.  And as the fictional character David Brent of the BBC mockumentary ‘Office’ said You just have to accept that some days you are the pigeon, and some days you are the statue.  

 And Mayawati and others like her would well do to remember that !

Thursday, January 5, 2012

Be Indian, Buy Indian - Abroad

We came back from our trip to the UK with two shopping bags.  My daughter insisted I take them.  She said it would be useful since there was a ban on plastic in the city.  It was priced at 2 pounds each.  They are neat.  They  hold large quantities.  Easy to carry since the handles are designed so that they do not hurt the palm.  After repeated use, feeling pleased with the purchase and thinking it was worth the money, I examined the bag to find this tiny tag stating – ethically made in India. 

Take a look at this fragrance warmer my brother got me from the US.   It looks beautiful, the work, as in the case of the jute bag, was neat – no jagged edges.  I said aloud, such a beautiful piece, why can’t it be made here.  And there it was, hidden away a small etching.. made in India !

While I am glad our goods are finding their way abroad, I wonder why  inferior goods and export rejects finding their way into our stores?  Why cannot we be more quality conscious and push our manufacturers to give us the same goods that they export?

Better quality basmati rice, jute and leather bags, good quality handlooms and handicrafts, superior apparel, better alphonso mangoes, specialty tea  -  all find their way out of India.  We pay probably the same price for goods of lesser quality. 

It is not as if the higher priced goods do not find a market here.  One visit to the supermarket and you have shelves with  poor quality Kashmiri Apples, shrivelled Nagpur Oranges competing with expensive Australian Kiwi , California grapes,  Thai Rambutan and Chinese apples all ridiculously priced.  And there are buyers for them too.  It seems as if the display of poor quality Indian fruits with the better looking imported goods is intentional.

 ‘Yeh export quality hai’ is what the sales guy will tell you when he wants to push a product and  wants to justify the price he has quoted.  Export quality – that is to say only the best can be exported.  The rest is for use at home.  Are we not discerning enough or are we satisfied with sub-standard goods? When the best products from abroad find buyers here, why is it that the best made in our country is not available to the same buyer? 

Do we need to shop abroad to bring our own ’quality’ goods back home? 
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